By Susan Breslow Sardone
Thinking about sailing into the sunset on a honeymoon or first romantic-getaway cruise -- but feeling a little confused because there are so many ports, cruise lines, ships, itineraries, cabins, and prices to choose?
Relax. Unless one is related to a travel agent, all first-time cruise passengers feel that way. And it is true that selecting a cruise is more complicated than choosing a resort. But it can also be more fun to vacation on a floating hotel than one that stays in the same place.
Key QuestionsBefore you choose your first cruise, ask yourselves:
- What can we afford to spend per person? Cruises are all-inclusive to some degree, meaning the price covers your cabin and all meals plus on-board entertainment. Things like bar drinks and sodas, spa services, and shore excursions are extra.
- How many days can we afford to get away? Cruises range in length from two-day "cruises to nowhere" to 130-day around-the world voyages. Most are in the 4 to 7 to 11 day range.
- Where do we want to cruise? Cruise ships ply waters around every continent. In the USA, many first-time cruise passengers enjoy cruising to the Caribbean Islands or Bermuda.
- Do we mind flying to where we embark -- or do we want to drive to the closest port? Today more than 40% of the US population lives within driving distance of a port, which saves money on flights and is a boon for nervous flyers.
- What kind of cabin will be comfortable in? While inside cabins are cheapest, they are windowless and cramped. Today more and more ships feature balcony cabins, which are especially romantic.
- Do we want to meet lots of new people... or would we rather keep to ourselves? Some cruise ships have fixed seating at dinner time and only a few tables for two. Everyone else sits at large tables. If that doesn't appeal, look for cruise ships that allow more flexibility in dining.
- Do we want to get dressed up, or do we prefer to be casual? If the latter is true, don't choose a cruise that has formal nights.
- Are we considering getting married on board? Most ships contain small wedding chapels. Normally onboard weddings take place in the couple's home port, with guests disembarking before the ship sails.
- Is having an on-board spa important? Kids' facilities? A casino?
Sail Away for the First Time
Since every cruise line is different, potential cruise passengers can feel overwhelmed by the surfeit of choices. The following are cruise lines that I recommend for couples. These profiles can help you to distinguish one from another and choose a ship that's right for the two of you:
- Celebrity Cruises
- Norwegian Cruise Lines
- Princess Cruises
- Radisson Seven Seas Cruise Line
- Holland-American Cruise Line
- Oceania Cruises
Cruises for Every Budget
"Travelers can be assured of top-of-the-line service, food, and entertainment, no matter what level of accommodations they select," says Bob Sharak of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), a trade group which represents 24 North American cruise lines.
"Budget-conscious travelers can choose a cruise for as little as $50 per person per day," he points out, "including transportation, meals, accommodations, and most activities, depending on choice of cabin, ship, and itinerary - to more than $500 per person per day."
Cruising is Unique
Whether your dream vacation consists of visiting a tropical or exotic destination, dining casually or in gourmet restaurants, enjoying activity-filled or relaxing days, you will find a variety of cruise lines and ships to choose from.
On the newest cruise ships, amenities are equal to those of fine hotels: Spas that pamper, swimming pools, even concierge and butler service. In port you can choose to participate in land and water sports, tour historical and cultural points of interest, and shop for duty-free goods.
At night on a cruise you can stroll on the deck under moonlit skies, choose from a martini menu, dance to live music, see a Broadway-style show, and try your luck in a casino. And with satellite telephone service and 24-hour Internet access, cruise passengers can stay connected with friends and family - or choose to cut loose completely.
Cruising for Info Online
While nearly 90 percent of travelers book cruises through a travel agent, the Internet is an excellent place to research and compare cruises. "The Web has a wealth of information such as cruise reviews, cruise ship schedules, deck plans, photos of cabins and common areas, lists of shore excursions and activities, onboard activities such as spa treatments, and sample dinner menus to help plan a cruise," explains Linda Garrison, Guide to Cruises on About.com.
Online travel agents such as Expedia and Travelocity, she adds, "offer free search capabilities where you can select a timeframe and destination and see a list of available cruises."
Thanks to the increased popularity of cruises, more than 11 million people travel by ship annually. After doing a little research, perhaps you'll choose to join them this year for the first time.